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At least 5 climbers dead, 7 hurt as Mayon Volcano spews ash

(Updated 10:33 a.m., May 8) - At least five climbers were killed while seven were injured when Mayon Volcano in Albay spewed ash Tuesday morning, officials said. Four of the fatalities are foreigners who were crushed by large rocks triggered by the ash explosion along with their Filipino tour guide, Albay Governor Joey Salceda said. The foreigners were reportedly Germans although this has yet to be verified by the German Embassy in Manila. The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of Albay identified the lone Filipino fatality as tour guide Jerome Berin, according to Abundio Nuñez, operation officer of the PDRRMC. GMA News Online is withholding the identitites of the four other dead while next of kin are being contacted by authorities. Bernardo Rafaelito Alejandro, head of the Office of Civil Defense in Bicol, said the foreign nationals and their guide were about half kilometer away from the volcano's crater when the explosion occurred around 8 a.m. “Their target is the crater... according to a guard, there was tremor and the five fell into a ravine that is estimated to be 1,000 feet deep,” he said. Alejandro said those injured belong two other groups of hikers. “Their injuries are only minor, some of them only sustained bruises,” he said. Six of the seven injured were identified as:
  • Nithi Ruangpisit (Thai)
  • Tanut Ruchipiyrak (Thai)
  • Sabine Strohberger (Austrian)
  • Bernard Hernandez (Filipino)
  • Calixto Balunso (Filipino)
  • Kenneth Jkesalva (Filipino)
Those injured were brought to Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital for treatment.
Groups of hikers Salceda said two groups consisting of 27 hikers and their guides were on the mountain when the ash explosion occurred.
Of the seven people in the first group that used the Santa Maria route, three were injured, all of them Indonesians, Salceda told GMA News Online in a phone interview. Two were rescued while their two tourist guides stayed behind with the injured climbers, who are waiting for rescue, he added.
The fatalities came from the second group—who used the Malilipot route going up the volcano and consisted of 20 people, he said.  
"Nawalan na kami ng contact from the second group kaya hindi namin ma-ascertain kung ano na ang kalagayan ng 15 pang iba," Salceda said. "Nagpadala na kami ng chopper."
A rescue team is on its way up the volcano as the hikers cannot go down on their own following the new volcanic hazards. NDRRMC head Eduardo del Rosario, in an interview on GMA News TV's News to Go program, said three separate groups with an estimated 20 mountain climbers are still stuck near the crater of the volcano.
Despite the recorded casualties from the volcanic ash explosion, the alert level for Mount Mayon was not raised, he said.
“As per alert status being maintained by Phivolcs, it is still maintaining alert level 0, meaning that no eruption is imminent,” del Rosario said.
“Observe the permanent danger zones where the public will be prohibited from entering the six-kilometer radius [of the zone],” he said. Hikers may have suffocated
Earlier, Albay-based radioman Lito Sanchez quoted a local tourist guide, Kenneth Jesalva, as saying a foreigner and a local tourist may have suffocated after being caught near the explosion.
"Siya mismo nagkumpirma, dalawang kasama umakyat sa slope ng Mayon ang sinasabing casualty. Isang foreign tourist at isang local tourist. Ayon sa kanyang pagkasabi ay patay na," he said in an interview on dzBB.
Albay Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council head Cedric Daep said they had received "unconfirmed" reports that some people had climbed the volcano.
Phivolcs said the phreatic (steam-driven) explosion occurred at 8 a.m., with the steam reaching 500 meters above the summit and drifting east.
It added Alert Level 0 (normal situation) remains in effect. Unauthorized climb
Daep said Salceda has dispatched three teams near Mount Mayon to assist those who may be trying to return from the volcano, a popular tourist destination famed for its near-perfect cone.
Salceda said the mountain climbing activities of the two groups affected were unauthorized. He added the tourist guides failed to secure a permit from the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (APSEMO) and the Department of Tourism.
"Matagal na naming sinasabihan ang mga tour guide na every time you climb the volcano, kailangan munang mag-ask ng permission," he said. "Bawal kasing maraming sabay-sabay na aakyat."
"Huge demand kasi ngayon ang pag-akyat, lalo na sa foreigners," he added. 
Authorities are facing difficulties in accounting for all the victims because the tourist guides of the groups that went up the volcano failed to seek permits for the climb. "So far wala kaming issued permit to climbers," Daep confirmed, adding that some tourists and orchid collectors may have gone there despite lack of permission.
"Hindi namin alam kung ilan o sino ang umakyat kasi wala silang clearance from APSEMO," Daep said in a separate telephone interview with GMA News Online.
For now, Daep said Salceda ordered local teams to make sure the six-kilometer-radius permanent danger zone is cleared of climbers.
"All other activities (in the area) are suspended," he said. Not the worst
Mayon Volcano's May 7 phreatic eruption is the latest in its 390-year recorded history, Phivolcs said Tuesday. 
Phivolcs said that the "most destructive eruption" of Mayon on record was on Feb. 1, 1814, when it erupted with "plinian, pyroclastic flows" and "volcanic lightning and lahar."
Mayon is listed among at least 23 active volcanoes in the Philippines, along with Mounts Pinatubo (Central Luzon) and Taal (Batangas), Phivolcs said.   Meanwhile, Alejandro said there is no need to evacuate the residents near the volcano, adding such eruptions are expected from an active volcano. “We only evacuate during level 3 alert. As of now, we are only at alert level one,” said Alejandro. — With reports from Andrei Medina and Amanda Fernandez/KG/HS/RSJ/YA, GMA News